By Jon Kennedy
When planning a bouldering trip in June, climbers usually place Bishop last on their list of potential destinations. For those unfamiliar with Bishop climbing, it is a fall or winter destination if you want those optimal sending temps. I love the look you get when you mention you’re going to the Buttermilks in June. With temps in the 90s and up, leaving climbers running for the shade, Bishop in the summer can be a climber’s worst nightmare. But the sound of no crowds lured a few Average Joe climbers to the high desert in mid-June…
As we left the Bay Area, we got our last glimpse of city life and the “thrill” of sitting in rush-hour traffic. A few hours later, we reached Yosemite National Park, flashed our annual pass and headed towards the higher elevation of Tuolumne. Seeing the beautiful lakes and inspiring domes of YNP were the perfect primer and helped get us psyched for some granite climbing.
After several hours of driving down 395, we decided to make a short detour in the interest of a little rest & relaxation. The combination of the full moon and the cool evening sky created a perfect setting for taking in the local hot springs.
(NOTE: The springs are easily found right off of 395. Once you see the big green church, continue on for a few miles then take a left and head down the road until you pass the second cattle gate. From here, make a left turn onto an obvious dirt road and park at the turn off. There’s a wooden path that leads you right to tub.)
If you’ve never been to the hot springs off 395, it’s worth every minute of the short drive/approach to be able to relax under the stars and the moon surrounded by the mountains and good friends. After a restful night’s sleep, “Team Average Joes” were off to crush some real rock and see some beautiful sights. But before we headed up to the boulders, we needed to fuel up at Erik Schatt’s bakery – which has good coffee and the best baked goods on the whole East Side. Our first climbing destination was Way Lake, where the high elevation ensures that the temps are usually perfect in June. Since no one in our group had ever been to Way Lake, we didn’t quite know what to expect. After hiking around a bit searching for boulders, we realized we were on the wrong trail without a climbable boulder in sight. Instead of getting disappointed, we shifted gears and ended up enjoying an incredible day of alpine hiking, which satisfied our wanderlust. After a pit stop at Mammoth Brewery, it was back to the hot springs to relax and plan out our next course of action. It was an easy decision to settle on a night session, so we headed towards the Buttermilks, since we knew there were a couple of decent boulders there.
Night climbing in the ‘Milks is amazing. When you pull up to Grandma and Grandpa Peabody and the whole area is peacefully deserted, you know it’s going be a fun night. We got the pads out and ran towards Grandma Peabody. The back of Grandma has a bunch of skin-friendly jugs to warm up on. After a brief warm-up, we attempted a who’s who of popular Buttermilks moderates, including Go Granny Go and Ironman Traverse, climbs that commonly attract heavy crowds during the peak season. Fortunately, we literally had them all to ourselves. Thanks to our JOBY torches, the climbs were easily lit up, making night climbing very easy and safe. After a few sends and lots of flailing we headed back to town for a good night’s sleep (In a bed; worth it if you want to sleep like a boss).
After another lazy morning, which downtown Bishop accommodated perfectly, we waited out the hottest part of the day with a little yoga and reading at the local park. After the temps started to drop, we headed out for Rock Creek.
Rock Creek is a special place. Located at 8500 to 9000 ft, there are beautiful granite boulders and a lovely creek flowing with clear water and some happy fish. Finding and approaching the boulders at Rock Creek was a dream. You park your car, walk 5 minutes, and you’re at the first incredible boulder. The rock quality is excellent – smooth granite with aesthetic lines and comfortable holds. We tried a few moderate problems, which required precise footwork and solid technique. Rock Creek bouldering is very similar to what you’d find in Yosemite – very smooth rock, littered with small/slippery feet and not much for handholds. The Rock Creek area doesn’t have vast amounts of bouldering, but what it lacks in sheer quantity, it made up for with its beautiful alpine forest setting. My favorite problem that we tried was called “Groove and Arete”, a fun V4 arête with a big move to an edge and some dicey top-out holds.
The next day, we again waited out the hottest hours of the day – this time by checking out the local climbing shops. One of my favorite ways to kill time in Bishop is going to Moonlight Gallery and checking out the beautiful pictures from around the world. The gallery also has a few books showcasing climbing history, something every climber these days should look at. The history of this sport has always amazed me. Looking at the pictures of the “Stone Masters” defying gravity without the benefit of guidebooks or modern-day gear has always been inspiring.
Around 3pm we headed to the Milks for an afternoon session. The first stop was the Birthday Boulders, with some fun warm-ups and a pretty stout V3 face climb called “Birthday Direct”, with small crimps and high feet. Because we also had a first-timer with us, I wanted to show her all of the “easier” classics, like Buttermilk Stem, Birthday Mantle, Robinson Rubber Tester, Good Morning Sunshine slab and the Green Wall. Being a first-time climber in the Milks, you realize that even the V0s are hard – very humbling. A perfect example is the holdless slab of Robinson Rubber Tester, which I’ve seen completely baffle and shut down many strong gym climbers. After a fun afternoon of climbing, we headed to the Happys, where big holds and big feet make for some fun gymnastic climbing.
In the Happys, we found a few good boulders with some fun V0 – V2s and just went to town. Our Bishop rookie quickly acclimated herself to the area, topping out 8 or 10 problems in our short session. She liked this style of rock a little better than the unforgiving granite of the Buttermilks. We climbed until sunset and then headed to the Tablelands to setup camp, where we enjoyed dinner before drifting off to sleep under the starlight.
The next morning, after packing up the car, we made another stop at Schatt’s bakery for goodies to bring home, paid a visit to the smokehouse for some jerky, and were on our way.
This was one of my favorite trips to Bishop. No crowds, tons of new sights and boulders, and a lot of time soaking in the springs. Leaving Bishop is always a sad time – your skin is sore, your body is sore, and you realize you’re leaving one of the best spots in California. Keep it a secret, though, people. Bishop is too hot in June. Spread the word.